Quotes from Thai Forest Master- Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro

With Wesak Day around the corner, I would like to include some quotes from  teachers from the Thai forest tradition. Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro was a forest monk who was well known for his meditation practice and teachings. He was the direct disciple of Ajahn Mun Bhuridatto. During his time, Thai people were mostly worshipping spirit shrines and practices in village monasteries were not strong. He had played a vital role in helping Thai people develop faith in the teachings of the Buddhism by teaching them to adapt to the practice of everyday life.

Ajahn Lee’s disciple was Ajahn Fuang Jotiko who subsequently taught Ajahn Thanissaro (Ajahn Geoff) who was an American. He played a vital role in translating a lot of the teachings including the text into English to benefit the English speaking world. He has also made these translations available for free for decades (I remember discovered the site accesstoinsight.org when the internet was at its infancy).

Below are collection of inspiring quotes from Ajahn Lee. In the past, I used to print out these quotes and stick the computer at my workdesk when I was in the corporate world. Ajahn Lee’s books (translated with the help of Ajahn Thanissaro) had helped me tremedously to navigate to maintain my spiritual practice that helps to give me inner strength to navigate the world that can be ruthless at times.

The following quotes are taken from the book “The Skill of Release” translated by Ajahn Thanissaro:

This book as well as Ajahn Lee’s teachings are available for free online via the site accesstoinsight.org.

A facebook group that has frequent updates and quotes from Ajahn Lee: https://www.facebook.com/AjaanLee

Don’t believe everything you hear. If they say you’re a dog, check to see for yourself if you’ve got a tail. If you don’t, then they’re wrong.

This quote really resonated with me since the first time I read it. Do note that Thai forest masters like Ajahn Lee led a simple life, he was born more than 100 years ago. In his teachings, he uses direct everyday examples, which villagers then were able to relate to.

In the world where regardless of no matter how much of good we try to do and when doing our best, we would still have people who would criticize and condemn us. I always always kept this quote in my mind whenever someone said something hurtful and I would evaluate to see if it is true or not. Just like if someone accuse us of being a dog, we need to see if we got a tail or not (okay, I know not all dogs have tails but you get the idea, rite?).  Somehow this quote always console my heart.

 

Even if a stupid person gets a huge inheritance from his parents or grandparents, he won’t be able to prevent himself from creating a lot of bad kamma with it. An intelligent person, though, even if he has only an ax to his name, can use it to set himself up for life.

I consider inheritance money not truly belonging to us – we are merely the custodian of the wealth that has been brought down to us. If we do not handle the money well, it would lead us to our downfall. If you have an inheritance, as much as you can, use the money to do good. Because these are the money of your ancestors and parents. Use it to do good and it will bring blessings and merit to them, and us. Splurge it away or use it for bad causes and it would bring misfortune to us.  We often see relationships of siblings and relatives get ugly and destroyed because they were fighting for inheritance. But what we do not realize is when we inherit the money it comes with responsibilities. If we do not handle the money well, would be like a curse for us instead of a blessing. Trust me, as I have lived long enough to see many examples of what happened to people years down the line when they misappropirated inheritance money and did not put it to good use.  

 

A person who makes a mistake is better than a person who doesn’t act at all, for mistakes can be corrected. But if you don’t act, how will you know how to correct yourself? — for you don’t know whether you’re mistaken or not. The fact that you don’t act is a mistake in and of itself.

In life, it is okay to make mistakes if we do not know it. But once we know it is a mistake and continue to do it without correcting ourselves, then it is no longer alright. 

 

People who don’t believe in goodness rarely do good, but people who don’t believe in evil do evil all the time.

This quote is profound. Some people do not believe in evil, ie they do not understand that bad actions they do would have bad consequences and kamma…. are in a more detrimental position. So they continue to do it without fear….in actions, words and thoughts. Some people like to appear to be spiritual looking but at evil all inside – if they know and understanding the consequences deep in their hearts, they would not dare to do bad deeds. 

A deserted house, a house where someone has died, gives you the chills. Only if there are people in the house will you feel secure. A person who is not mindful of the present is like a deserted house. When you see such a person, you don’t feel secure.

When we are not mindful, it is like leaving the windows and doors in our house all open. Bad things and crooks can easily get in, stay and refused to leave. We would get easily affected and influenced because our attention is scattered outwards…. hence we are ‘seldom home’, ie mindful within our body. With awareness and mindfulness, we stay guard within our home (our body) with all the windows and doors closed which helps to center us and bring inner stability and strength.  That is why I personally never liked to take alcohol or anything that can cause me to lose my self awareness and dull my senses. Nowadays I also do my best to keep my attention within instead of letting my mind wondering out and thinking a lot.

 

 

Keep your evil intentions to yourself, and be careful with your good intentions, too. It’s like handing a knife to a person: You may have good intentions, hoping that he’ll put it to good use, but if he uses it to kill someone, your intentions backfire on both of you.

While we know we should not act on our bad intentions, we may overlook the danger of good intention. When we help others, we cannot do it blindly but need to be with wisdom. Do good but within moderate levels and with limit. For example, if we keep handling help to someone and supporting them in a good environment, next time when we are no longer around or when they have to fend for themselves, they would not have the correct mindset to navigate the world because they did not devleop resillence and toughness.

Generosity is something that poor people can’t practice, but crazy people can. Virtue is something that crazy people can’t practice, but poor people can. As for meditation, everyone can practice it, no matter what their age, sex, or station in life.

When we are poor, we have nothing to give to other people materially.  Ajahn Lee had written many books on meditation for people with different temperaments. During those days villagers live a simple life without much preconceived notions and thoughts as their days were spent working at the fields and just trying to earn or pick enough food to survive. When they see forest monks, they give and share the little they had with these monks. And the monks would give a simple teachings.

There had been cases, the monk just asked the villager to repeat a certain word such as “Buddho”, and the villager would steadfastly and one pointedly direct all this thoughts to this one word while going about his daily chores. And many who do that way ended up developing deep concentrations and insights which they would then visit the teacher for more advanced instructions. Their minds were simple and not cluttered with thoughts, ideas and thinking like the modern society today which enable them to easily practice meditation. 

If the mind has a sense of inner fullness, then when we associate with other people they’ll pick up on that sense of fullness as well. If we’re miserable, then when we associate with other people we’ll make them miserable, too.

Yes, I really do believe that many people have a kind of gut feeling that can pick up on the vibes of someone.  We often meet a person that seemed ‘nice’ but may sound off our internal alarms. Then we time we discovered the person is truly not what they seemed. Some people who always complain and think negatively would often have the draining effect on us. But if we have inner goodness, people can pick up that.

If we can develop the power of the mind, we can send thoughts of good will to help lessen the sufferings of other people. But if we don’t straighten ourselves out first, we can’t really help anyone else, in the same way that a crazy person can’t help another crazy person become sane. If we’re on fire and other people are on fire, how can we help them? We have to put out our own fires first before we can help them cool down. We have to “have” before we can “give.”

When we are able to develop inner stillness, strength. mindfulness and calm, only then we are able to help others. Sometimes Theravadian Buddhists have been said to be selfish as they only focus on their own cultivation. But in my personal experience, I have seen monks and nuns who helped people tirelessly and effectively solve the problems of many. Because of their strong foundation, they do not get swayed or affected easily- they do what they can to serve, often quietly without broadcasting themselves. My life has been touched by the help and advice I’ve received over the years…. a simple example through the tireless effort of monks like Ajahn Thanissaro who translated teachings of forest ajaans and teaching the Dhamma to many over so many decades.

 

You have to “do” before you can “know.” You have to know before you can let go. You have to give rise to the causes, and then the results will come on their own.

In order to be able to achieve our aspirations, we need to do our part in consistent practice. It is the practice that gives rise to the cause that would lead to results through time, effort and consistency.

The world is like red ants that crawl along vines. If we cut away the vines that entangle our tree, the ants won’t be able to get to it.

We may see the red ants as the enemy and blame them for biting and causing us suffering and pain. The vines here can be equated with the thoughts of our mind that constantly proliferate outwards….. providing a convenient path for attachments and unwholesome thoughts to enter through our sense bases. If we ‘cut off’ these proliferation, then we solve the root cause of the problem. Hence, the issue is not with the ‘red ants’ but it is the fact we move outwards to invite them in.

The mind is neither good nor evil, but it’s what knows good and knows evil. It’s what does good and does evil. And it’s what lets go of good and lets go of evil.

 

When I’m in Bangkok, everyone who comes to my quarters sits still and meditates — not because I tell them to, but because that’s what I’m doing myself. That in and of itself is enough to teach them. I sit with my eyes closed; when they see me sitting with my eyes closed, they sit with their eyes closed as well and don’t dare say anything. If I were to get involved in their issues, they’d get involved in mine.

A master teaches by example, actions and conduct. When he was alive, Ajahn Lee was well known for his psychic abilities and power in battling evil forces. He had also cured many incurable illness, for example there was a laywoman who lied down for many years and not able to walk. He just said ‘be gone with your old kamma’ and the next thing, the woman was able to get up to walk again. But in his teachings he never emphasized developing psychic powers but he wrote about spiritual practice and developing meditation. When he dictated his autobiography (linked below), he downplayed a lot any supernatural and psychic abilities he had. He had the paramis with the abilities which he used to help his disciples solve their problems first, and then from there, he would teach them the path of genuine spiritual practice. 

 

I hope these collections can offer you some inspiration like how these quotes have inspired and given comfort during my difficult times. There are few books by Ajahn Lee I recommend which you can read for free:

You can also listen to the narration by Ajahn Thanissaro where he did reading from the books:

 

 

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